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Film: The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler (previously known simply as The Butler) is an historical film directed by Lee Daniels. It stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines (based on the Real Life figure Eugene Allen), the head butler of the White House from 1952 to 1986, where he served under eight different Presidents, and bore witness to the changes in the political and racial landscape of the United States during his tenure.

The movie was released on August 16, 2013. The trailer can be seen here.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder: Gloria, who winds up having an affair with her neighbor Howard before deciding to end it. It's also around then that Cecil tries to make the effort to spend more time with his wife.
  • Adorkable: Charlie.
  • Angry Black Man/The Cynic: Louis becomes this after tiring of Martin Luther King's non-violent approach and joining Black Panther Party, which really encouraged a belligerent attitude that infuriated his parents. Eventually, he decides that the Panthers are going too far and decides to leave to fight the good fight with more reasonable means. These include getting elected into the US Congress and leading peaceful demonstrations to further social justice.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Delivered by Oprah, no less.
  • Asshole Victim: Howard, at least as far as Gloria is concerned.
  • Based on a True Story
  • Been There, Shaped History
  • Bittersweet Ending: Cecil loses both his wife and one of his sons and ultimately resigns from his job after realizing how thankless it is, but he also reconnects with his other son and lives to see the first black President take office.
  • The Cameo: A few historical ones, including Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Richard Nixon.
  • The Deep South: Where Cecil grew up and where other parts of the movie take place.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: After her (presumed) grandson rapes a field hand and shoots her husband dead out of spite, Annabeth Westfall's decision to make their young son a house servant is presented plausibly as an act of kind contrition. Also the common usage of the n-word, including by African American characters who don't know any better (which includes Cecil).
  • Face-Heel Turn/Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Carol goes from an idealistic freedom rider to, as Oprah puts it, "a low class bitch".
  • Faceless Goons: Some of the KKK thugs, though most of them actually avert this.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Cecil's sons take turns being the two roles.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Due to this being Historical Fiction the audience knows going in what will happen to everyone except the main characters.
  • Gray and Gray Morality/Good Versus Good: The central conflict between Cecil and Louis. On one hand, Louis is crusading for civil rights, but in reckless ways that endanger his safety, at which point the film tends to take Cecil's side. However, by the same token, Cecil's stubborn and set-in-his-ways (if not also well-meaning) personality ultimately hurts his entire family.
  • The Gump: Cecil Gaines ends up witnessing or even participating in most of the major events of the Civil Rights Movement: Eisenhower discussing sending the Army to enforce the desegregation of Little Rock High School; Robert F Kennedy discussing how to move forward with desegregation in general; Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act; the Freedom Riders (through Louis); the rise and militancy of the Black Panthers (also through Louis), and Nixon's fight against them; the international boycott and economic sanctions of apartheid South Africa; and finally, the election of Barack Obama.
  • Happily Married: What Cecil and Gloria are for most of the movie. Gloria also pretty much lampshades this near the end of the movie.
  • Heel Realization: Louis has one after spending too much time with the Black Panthers. Ronald Reagan has one in regards to whether or not he's on the right side of the Civil Rights struggle in South Africa.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: A Running Gag with President Johnson is that he is almost never seen without his dogs.
  • I Have No Son: An argument after Louis shows up for dinner for the first time in seven years leads to Cecil not speaking to him for about fifteen.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Averted in an odd way. The film was originally titled The Butler until Warner Bros. blocked The Weinstein Company at the MPAA title registration bureau based on the fact that they released a very successful short film under that title... in 1916. The MPAA ended up allowing the film to keep the title as long as they put director Lee Daniels' name in front of it.
  • Invisible President: Mostly averted, but the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter are rather glanced over via a news montage, presumably because their tenures weren't as important to the Civil Rights Movement. Richard Nixon comes close, getting only a very brief cameo.
  • Jerkass: Howard. Louis and Carol eventually become this, though the former grows out of it.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: President Johnson is portrayed as incredibly crass but also passes the Voting Rights Act.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Howard.
  • Kill the Cutie: Charlie is one of the nicest and most endearing characters in the movie, but is ultimately killed in Vietnam.
  • Killed Off for Real/Dropped a Bridge on Him: Cecil's Father, Charlie, and Howard.
  • Light Is Not Good: The KKK, though having said that, not all of them wear the trademark white uniform here.
  • Mood Whiplash: Don't get too comfortable whenever jokes are making you laugh. Something tragic is coming right after.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Parental Abandonment: Poor Cecil
  • Pet the Dog: Ronald Reagan gets one when accepting Cecil's resignation along with listening to Cecil's complaints of the pay gap and being willing to force Cecil's boss to give the same privileges. His wife gets one earlier when she invites Cecil and Gloria to dine with them as guests rather than as a butler and his wife.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Suffered by Cecil's mother.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Cecil gives one to Louis during the dinner scene, mixed with Tranquil Fury.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Louis and Cecil respectively.
  • Scary Black Man: The Black Panther party are a whole group of these.
  • The Sociopath: Thomas Westfall.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: When the soldiers come to tell Cecil and Gloria their son Charles has been KIA, their reaction is accompanied jarringly by disco music (they were watching Soul Train). Which only makes it that much worse.
  • The Stoic: Frequently Cecil, in contrast to his son Louis.
  • Token Romance: Louis and Carol. It doesn't last, and Louis even winds up doubting if Carol ever loved him at all.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Louis from Cecil's perspective. Also Charlie, who goes to Vietnam seemingly on a whim...and gets killed.
  • Tranquil Fury: Cecil to Louis at the fateful dinner scene, before becoming not so tranquil.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: How loosely? The only member of the butler's family whose name is not changed is Charles. Film!Charles goes to Vietnam and is KIA. Real!Charles went to Vietnam and watched a private showing of this film.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: The Black Panthers. Also the teacher who first gets Louis and Carol into the Freedom Riders, putting them through Training from Hell to prepare them for what they will face, and being completely unsympathetic to potential recruits who are afraid of being killed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Cecil and Louis both suffer from this from a couple different people, including (and most prominently) each other.
  • Would Hit a Girl/Would Hurt a Child: The KKK and other racists show no compunctions about going after women and minors with nothing short of total sadism.
  • Your Father Is Better Than You Think He Is: Essentially, what Martin Luther King Jr. tells Louis is that his father, as a domestic servant, is contributing to the advancement of racial justice and equality in his own way.
  • You Killed My Father: Averted. Cecil never gets an ounce of closure for his parents being cruelly taken from him.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Louis may be trying to get equality for African Americans, but his father views him as being irredeemably stupid and irresponsible.


Bullet To The HeadFilms of the 2010sByzantium

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